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What Is Latency? Why It Matters In Web Hosting

UPDATED
April 23, 2024

 

Back then, having a fast website meant you were one of the best. But nowadays, everyone is expected to have one!

 

This is because slow websites affect their search engine ranking and how visitors feel about their experience. In fact, 47% of website visitors expect a site to load in less than two seconds!

 

Thankfully, there are countless things you can do to improve your website’s latency. But, understanding how it works and why it matters is the first step. We’re here to let you know all about it.

 

 

What Is Latency?

 

what is latency

Latency is the total time it takes for data to travel.

 

In a network, latency is the amount of time it takes to access data, with the duration typically expressed in milliseconds (ms) or microseconds (s).

 

More specifically, latency refers to the total amount of time it takes for your computer to connect to the network, travel through the internet connection method it’s using, and access the host it’s attempting to reach.

 

It’ll probably go through a lot of routers and switches along the way, which also affect latency and, in many cases, lengthen the amount of time it takes to get to its destination. This has always been the biggest challenge online since it affects how usable applications are.

 

 

What Has Latency Got To Do With Web Hosting?

 

There will always be some latency between your users and the host servers, regardless of where they are located. This is inevitable even for the fastest web hosts since the information needs to travel through switches between networks along global fiber optic routes.

 

Do take note that this shouldn’t be confused with bandwidth. Because they’re so closely related, some may think they’re interchangeable (but we’ll get into their differences later on).

 

While there are people who might find a loading time difference of 10 to 500 milliseconds to be excessive, others find it to be standard. It solely depends on how much each millisecond is worth to your customers and how much they enjoy using your service.

 

This is why a lot of the best web hosts offer multiple options for data server locations around the world. For instance, Kinsta offers 30+ servers and Hostinger offers 10. This makes it easier for you to pick a data server that’s closest to your audience.

 

 

What Causes High Latency?

 

person holding ipad while the page on the screen loads

One of the main causes of high latency is how far a user is from a server.

 

There are a lot of factors that cause high latency, which can be pretty annoying and negatively affect your users’ overall browsing experience. Some of the most frequent reasons for network latency include the following:

 

  • Domain Name System (DNS) server errors
    Inefficient web servers can cause network lag or even prevent users from reaching your website. Error 404 and Error 500 are two examples of problems that users of web servers can experience.
  • Network device issues
    Data transfer can be slowed down by network equipment like routers and switches that have low memory or a high CPU load.
  • Poor environmental conditions
    Hurricanes, storms, or a lot of rain can harm satellite wireless signals, which will affect the internet connection and cause latency problems.
  • Multiple routers
    Since the latency increases each time a data packet moves from one router to another, using multiple routers can result in a slower network. This can cause delays as well as potential data packet losses.
  • Problems on the end-user device
    On the end user’s device, latency can also be brought on by low RAM and high CPU usage, much like network devices. A slow internet connection can also be the result of the end user’s limited bandwidth and out-of-date internet hardware.

 

 

Latency vs. Bandwidth

 

To clear up any possible confusion between the two, the term ‘latency’ describes the time it takes a data packet to move from one location to another. This is also known as the delay between the time data is sent and received, and is measured in milliseconds (ms). On the other hand, ‘bandwidth’ refers to the amount of data sent.

 

To put things in perspective, imagine you have a 500-seater bus and you also have a 2-seater sports car traveling from Los Angeles to New York. Since the sports car goes at a much higher speed, it reaches its destination first. This also means it has a lower latency.

 

On the other hand, the bus has a bigger bandwidth since it’s able to carry more people in a single trip.

 

 

How CDNs Can Help Reduce Latency

 

Since the distance between a browser and server affects overall speed, you can decrease latency by moving the two closer together. One way is to use a content delivery network (CDN) instead of physically moving your server location to be closer to every user.

 

What is a CDN, you ask?

 

A CDN is a network of distributed servers created to deliver web content to users as quickly as possible, no matter where they are in the world. This is because a CDN uses various network servers that are close to each individual visitor to deliver the requested assets. You can distribute content globally without having to rely on a single server thanks to a CDN.

 

a visual presentation of how CDN works

CDNs allow users to access data with very little latency.

 

Here’s how it works:

 

  1. The closest server to the user copies those web assets after delivering and showing the requested content.
  2. Then, when a different user in the same region of the world tries to access that content, the CDN can route the request from the origin server to the server closest to them.
  3. Cached content can now be delivered much faster since it has a shorter distance to travel.

 

 

Keep Yourself Lag-free

 

Low latency has become a requirement for websites nowadays, which can either make or break your visitors’ experience. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to achieve it. One of which is using a CDN, which makes your users have the best possible experience with lesser load times.